Boomer Professors Are Not Based

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by American Post Liberal on June 10, 2024. It is crossposted here with permission.

I have been told by some of my students that I am “based.” According to them, I am not afraid to talk about controversial issues and to challenge them to think beyond conventional platitudes. In contemporary internet parlance, based has become a catch-all term to refer to anyone or anything that dares to defy the conventions of political correctness.

Yet, as a philosophy professor, my goal is neither to be politically correct nor incorrect. Instead, I aim to teach my students to grapple and the great questions and ideas that have plagued human minds throughout cultures and centuries, supplying them the tools to think logically and with nuance, in the hope that they will understand that ultimate truth. I do this not because of some ideological conviction, but because I love the content I teach — I recognize its inherent goodness and beauty, and I want my students to fall in love with it too.

I take as my own the pedagogical philosophy of the Catholic priest Father Luigi Giussani, who claimed that “the young person must be guided gradually as he matures toward a personal and independent encounter with the reality that surrounds him. It is here that the educator’s stability becomes important, for increasing autonomy of the student is a ‘risk’ for the teacher’s intelligence and heart, and even for his pride. It is precisely the risk of confrontation that helps create the pupil’s personality in his relationship to all things; it is here that he develops his freedom.”

Many complain that young people lack “personality” nowadays — they lack charisma, chutzpah, blaming their fixation on identity, their quickness to pull the victim card as an excuse for having to build character and confront the harshness of life, and their proclivity for regurgitating ideas they have heard on TikTok, rather than coming up with their own original and nuanced ideas. It all makes them sound more like algorithmically-generated robots than free-thinking human beings. However, I argue that the blame lies more on the adults raising and educating them than the young people themselves (a point Luca Adamo raises in his article on push-over professors).

The recent fanfare over the Baylor University professor Dr. Greg Garret’s post on X about having “a hard and necessary conversation” with his students “about JK Rowling and her hatred of trans people” is a case in point. His comebacks — if you can even call them that — did not help his case. “Cool,” he shot back at one of his detractors, “tell me what’s going on on FOX News tonight.”

I could not help but — pardon the pun — cringe at his insufferable cringeness. This thread, with over six thousand replies and reposts and 2.6 million views, embodied so much my students complaints about their older, out-of-touch professors who virtue signal in order to “relate to the kids,” prove their moral righteousness, avoid getting canceled, or gratify their cloying need for affirmation.

Numerous students who claim to be based complain about professors who shove poststructuralist theory down their throats as if it were Gospel-truth (rather than one among many other schools of thought). Said professors, in their eyes, are not based precisely because their ideas are not “based” — that is — rooted in reality. They opt instead to push forth their vaporous, liquid-like worldview where race, class, and gender are eliminated, thus enabling us to live in a rootless utopia of peace and harmony.

But even my students who consider themselves to be “woke” are turned off by such cringe professors. To them, these professors’ progressivism is not rooted in an actual concern for the cause of the oppressed or in concrete social activism, but in performance art.

Their complaints echo much of what the controversial feminist professor Camille Paglia told Jordan B. Peterson in their viral conversation about the “real radicals” who she met as a student in the 1960s, who “were not word choppers. They were not snide postmodernists. … They used the language of the people. They had a populist energy. They addressed class. These are people who lived by their own convictions.”

The very existence of college courses about subpar works of literature like Harry Potter is a sign of the greater crisis of higher education. When there is a lack of consensus about what a college education is for and why it is worth student’s while, what else to do than to fill in the void with content inspired by the algorithm: viral pop culture trends and vacuous culture war fodder? Without any basis in reality, that is, in substantial academic content, universities are doomed to sell their empty product to their “consumers” — fewer and fewer of whom are naive enough to drink the Kool Aid.

Professors’ fixation with “right-speak” turns off young people, who — in the words of Pope Francis — have a “nose” for professors who are not “open to reality” and thus are not good professors and are “not even interesting.”

On the contrary, he insists that “school teaches us to understand reality. Going to school means opening one’s mind and heart to reality, in the wealth of its aspects, of its dimensions,” adding that “if one has learned how to learn—this is the secret, to learn how to learn! One retains this always, a person remains open to reality!” Consequently, students “are attracted by professors whose thoughts are open, ‘unfinished’, who are seeking something ‘more’, and thus they infect students with this attitude.”

Professors who are more interested in proving their moral righteousness than in the beauty, truth, and goodness of their subject matter itself will fail to interest their students. There is nothing fascinating, nor truthful, about someone standing in front of a room telling you to think in terms of leftism.

I have come to see that the students who appreciate my classes look forward to coming to class not because they agree with my opinions (many of them do not), but because they enjoy being challenged and engaging with reality and all of its nuances, and above all, because I find the content I teach to be truly fascinating and beneficial to their flourishing. Educators must place their hope of teaching students in a manner that is “based” in sincere love for reality in itself and not in putting on a sanctimonious show to soothe their own fragile egos.

Photo by sofiko14 — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 330499713


  • Stephen G. Adubato

    Stephen G. Adubato is a writer and professor of philosophy based in New York. He is also the curator of the Cracks in Postmodernity blog, podcast, and magazine. Follow him on Twitter @stephengadubato and Instagram @cracksinpomo

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